A Search Engine Refresher

Google SearchBy now we should all understand the value of a search engine results page (SERP). A higher ranking leads to increased traffic, which can yield increased revenue. At times, however, we are so quick to research strategy and technique that we overlook the fundamentals. Below, I’ve dissected a search engine into three working parts.

The Three Parts of the Search Engine:

1) Spiders

These virtual arachnids crawl around the internet following links on web pages looking for new or updated content. The spiders then return this information to the search engine index.

This works much like the nerve reflexes of the human body. The brain (search engine) needs to know what’s going on in the body (web). Whenever a nerve synapse is fired, the brain stores the sensation to memory for future reference. For a human, touching fire returns pain information which the brain stores in the Hippocampus (memory). Similarly, a search engine touching a spammy site returns a pain signal which is stored in the index (memory). In both cases, the human and the engine will try to avoid the experience in the future.

2) Index

This is the Hippocampus of the search engine. As the spiders crawl around the web looking for new and changed sites, they deliver the findings to the Index (memory). When a human, such as myself, crosses over the 30-year age threshold, the spiders, i.e. the eyes and other senses, search the body for any changes or aches. When changes are detected, like a new mole, bump or ache, it is committed to the Hippocampus for future search comparison. If there are no changes to report, the next time the spiders crawl past, nothing new is reported (and I breathe a sigh of relief).

3) Search Engine Algorithms

The logic behind the search engine. Like human beings, every major search engine works a little differently in this category. Search engine companies, like Google, heavily guard these algorithms and continually refine them in an effort to “enhance user experience”. This is accomplished, in part, by trying to determine the searchers intent, monitoring search patterns and tracking search trends.

Just as the human brain tries to respond to questions in a logical way, search engine algorithms are an attempt to achieve logical results based upon queries. When asked the question, “What color is the sky?”, the human brain searches for the best possible answer based upon the information stored in the Hippocampus. A human would likely answer “Blue” to this question. A person is not likely to answer “Peanut Butter” or “Steve Perry”.

Likewise, a search engine uses its logic algorithm to determine the best possible results to show on the SERP based upon its indexes. The engine will most likely return results about sky color, and other sky color related items. The engine will not (in most cases) return results about “Tony Danza” or “Necrotizing Fasciitis”.

How it works

We’ve now identified the three parts of a search engine, so now what? Let’s examine what happens when a user enters a query into an engine:

1) The search engine takes the query and gives it a once over. The engine tries to match any advanced or long tail keyword relevancy, and then it checks for misspellings.

This action probably parallels human beings more than any other step in the search process. Much like your infallible “one-upping” neighbor, or know-it-all friend, most search engines will point out your mistakes and attempt to persuade you to correct them.

Do you mean: Daiquiri. Yes I do, gee thanks Google!

2) Next the engine uses its algorithms to determine relevancy across the web. It looks for news or products determined to be of interest to the user. These are later positioned near (usually under) the top natural (organic) search results.

Humans enjoy sharing things that they’ve recently heard, like news, gossip or thoughts on American Idol. Search engines seem to enjoy this as well, as they too will show news articles related to the query, right on the SERP.

3) The engine then gathers a list of natural (organic) results to display.

After determining what news to tell a listener, most humans (not all) will report actual relevant information. This is also true for search engines. Moreover, we’ve all been interrupted by a 3rd party while passing information along to a colleague. This can also happen to the best search engine, vis-à-vis a pop-up!

4) Finally, the engine requests a list of relevant ads to place near and around the natural results.

This is the search engine equivalent of the human response, “Hey, I see that you’re looking for a new car. Well, I know this guy who can hook you up!”

5) Voila! A search engine results page is born!

Of course, just like in human physiology, all of this happens in about one tenth of a second. Performing a search for the term “biology” returns over 115 million results in approximately one thirteenth of a second – not too shabby.

Although somewhat simplistic, I hope that taking a look behind the scenes is a refresher on how search engines operate. It’s amazing how these programs have changed the way the world gets it news, information, and buys its products. Even now, user queries and search engines continue to grow and evolve.

The best thing about search engines is the fact that they offer a snapshot of current demand; they don’t create it. If you ever want to delve into the human psyche, or want to know what people are interested in, a search engine is a good place to start. Search patterns, keywords, rising search trends, and sites visited offer a great deal of insight into peoples interests, hobbies and buying habits.

We’ve come a long way since the internet was born, and user demand continues to increase. With that in mind, what do you think will be the next “big thing” in the evolution of search?